Aaron heard the buzzer. It cut through the singing in the dark, interrupting dying songs. He stopped his verse to listen. Sareh didn’t always answer the door once the lights were off.
The door opened immediately. Even this far away, even over the others’ singing, the loud hatch reverberated. Within a minute, the lights above flickered on.
It must be bad if Sareh was going to waste power this late.
Sareh rushed in. A man followed here, bearing a woman who thrashed in his arms. Sareh pointed to the cot next to Aaron. To Greta’s cot.
No. Greta was gone now, to a place with no snow, no smoke, where the light shone brighter than a sun without clouds.
Aaron studied the woman who lay next to him. She had dark skin and almond eyes. Aaron had never seen anyone like her. Her lips, though, were blue. That wasn’t a good sign.
The man loomed over her.
Sareh looked at him. “I need to know what’s going on from you. Come with me. I need to make sure Danal’s all right before I can help your wife.” She rushed out of the room.
The man lingered a moment.
The woman gripped is hand and shook her head. “Stay!” she wheezed. “I can’t die!”
The man looked deep into his wife’s eyes. He took a step backward. He turned and followed Sareh.
The woman cried out, a shrill panic.
Aaron reached out his small hand and placed it on the woman’s shoulder. “Hey, call down. Breathe. The air here is good.” He coughed.
The woman turned her dark eyes to him.
“What’s your name?”
Through trembling lips she answered, “Ffenyi.”
“You got a weird name. Mine’s Aaron.” He glanced at her hair. “You’re really old to be here.”
The woman curled into a ball facing him. She coughed. Blood dribbled out of her mouth and down her cheek. She would not meet Aaron’s eyes.
“Usually people with blacklung die young. Like me.”
She still didn’t answer.
“Hey, lady, I’m trying to distract you or cheer you up or something. Sareh’s got this thing. No one dies alone. You keep shrugging me off, though, you’re going to die alone.”
Her eyes shot up to his. She shook her head. “I can’t.”
Aaron nodded as he lay on his cot. “I used to be scared, too.” He closed his eyes, trying to think. How did Sareh put up with him when he showed up? “Why are you so scared?”
The woman swallowed and wheezed. It sounded like her air passages were opening up at least a little. The Filtered Rooms did their work well. “I fear the curse I am under,” she answered.
Now the woman closed her eyes and recited through bloody blue lips, “To the woman, her childbirth shall be wreathed in pain, in pain will your joy come to you. You will long to rule your husband, but he will rule you. To the man, because he submitted to his wife and defied the Sky Beyond the Clouds, the ground is cursed and you shall not eat of it without sweat. It will not grow food, but become hard and deny you. You will return to the ground, since from it you were taken. Dust you are, and to dust you will return.” She swallowed. “If I die, the Sky will reject me and I will slip below cold waters forever.”
Aaron waited until she opened her eyes again. “You know the curse?”
Ffenyi’s labored breath caught. “You know it?”
“I know the answer to it. I know the cure.”
“Tell me!” she begged. “Tell me before I die under the curse!”
Aaron nodded, closed his eyes, and took as deep a breath as his lungs allowed.
Read more of the world of Snow and Smoke here.
Read the previous entry, To Dust Return, here.
Read the next entry, I Will Place Enmity, here.